Coach James Weldon gives his thoughts on Dragan Bender

James Weldon UL Huskies
Dragan Bender has been the talk of Twitter this week on the back of his impressive displays for Croatia at the FIBA Europe men’s under 18 championships in Konya, Turkey.

James Weldon, who has won all there is to win as a coach in the Irish women’s league, is in town for the FECC and was at Croatia’s 101-81 win over Poland on Monday. We caught up with him last night to get his thoughts on the 16 year old who is averaging 16.4 ppg 11.2 rpg and 4.8 apg through five games.
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FIBA Europe Under 20 final highlights and top plays

An exciting FIBA Europe Under 20 men’s championship came to a conclusion on Sunday with Turkey taking the the title. Check out the highlights of their 65-57 win over Spain below.

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EuroBasket: Huge Q3 lifts Lithuania past Croatia 77-62

It was a battle from the start but only one team could make Sunday’s final. A third quarter burst move Lithuania past Croatia and into the gold medal game of EuroBasket 2013.

Where did that come from? Linas Kleiza had 17 points and 7 boards in just the first half. The former Toronto Raptor delivered his best half of basketball in recent memory as Lithuania took the early advantage. The edge was slight however. Much of the first half was tit for tat. Lithuania pushed to a 9 point lead briefly but Croatia kept drawing them in. Lithuania had a 24-19 lead at the end of the first quarter, it was 40-37 at the half. This game had offence but neither side could pull away. For Croatia is was Bojan Bogdanovic, a man highlighted as a major threat before this game, who kept them competitive on the scoreboard.

For Jonas Maciulis the job was meant to be one of containment, limiting what Bogdanovic did at the other end but the guard didn’t read the script. Going hard from deep, Maciulis start 4 of 5 from three-point range. The fourth three put Lithuania 48-39 up with 7.01 left in the third. Time-out Croatia at a crucial point in the game. Maciulis was having none of it. In the lane, backs up, bucket and the foul. He made the and-one to push Lithuania into a 12 point lead. Draper missed a three on the next play, Maciulis recovered and Mantas Kalneitis delivered a lay-up at the other end. Croatia tried the press. Alley-oop to Robertas Javtokas. Luka Zoric missed a pair of free throws and Kalneitis nailed another from deep. In three minutes Lithuania had broken the game open to lead 58-40. Timeout Croatia with the gap having doubled in the interim.

And what of Jonas Valanciunas? If it’s possible to be quiet when you have 4 blocks in the first three quarters, the Raptors big man certainly was that. Fouls hindered him but Valanciunas was wise to defer on offensive to those around him. He added one more block in the final frame.

With seconds remaining the camera panned to Aryvdas Sabonis. The icon standing proud and tall, always very tall. After a 10 year absence Lithuania had returned to the final of EuroBasket. Kleiza finished with 22 points and 11 boards, Maciulis had 23 and 6, Kalneitis 18 and 4 assists. They get a day off now to recover for the gold medal game. No matter who they play on Sunday, Lithuania will be underdogs and they’ll be fine with that. No team is more than the sum of its parts than Lithuania. Spain and France have their stars. Lithuania will be happy with their multitude of options.


EuroBasket Power Rankings: Spain rise to the top

Just in time for today’s semi finals to prove us completely wrong, here’s our updated Power Rankings for EuroBasket 2013 after the quarter final round.

1. Spain. It’s a what have you done for me lately business and nobody has done more than Spain. They leap Croatia on the back of an utter rout of Serbia.

2. Croatia. A second quarter spurt against Ukraine gave the Croats a decisive lead that they never gave up. This team has now won 8 straight.

3. Lithuania. Total coin toss between Lithuania and France following the quarter finals, the Lithuanians greater consistency in round two means they stay ahead for now.
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Preview: EuroBasket drama guaranteed in Lithuania vs Croatia semi final

After booking their places in next year’s FIBA World Cup yesterday, Lithuania and Croatia have their eyes on a more immediate prize. A place in the final of EuroBasket 2013 is up for grabs. Who will take it?

The first semi final of EuroBasket 2013 may lack the star power of Spain vs France but it promises to deliver plenty of excitement on Friday afternoon. There are battles everywhere and both sides have been waiting a long time to play in the final of Europe’s premier international competition. Lithuania is seeking to make it back to the final for the first time since 2003, when they beat Spain in the final. Croatia has never been past the semi-final round since gaining independence.

Guard play will be crucial in this game. Bojan Bogdanovic is the tournament’s second leading scorer, at 17.1 points per game, and Jonas Maciulis faces a tough match-up with the Fenerbahce man. Maciulis will likely be forced to focus on defence and defer to Mantas Kalneitis to impact on the offensive end. Defensively these are both impressive outfits with neither side giving up points easy. The match-up is also even on the inside, with Croatia ranking first and Lithuania third in rebounds for the tournament.

Consistency is going to be the deciding factor in this game. Lithuania have come back well in the business end of the tournament, rolling to four victories in a row after an up and down opening round. Croatia have a tournament leading eight straight wins but have made hard work of almost all of them. The glass looks to be an area where one team can break out. While neither team holds a significant edge in rebounding success or indeed talent on the inside, if one side can establish a presence early on the boards it could set the tone for the game.

As a collective unit Lithuania looks more organised but in terms of individual breakout options, the Croats appear to have the edge. If this game isn’t still in the balance going into the final minute I’ll be surprised. Still, drama and all, Croatia to win.


The line-ups for the Under 18 All Star game, which takes place at 12.00 CET on Saturday, have been announced.Finnish coach Jari Nykanen and Austria’s Andreas Kaineder will coach the Blue team while Slovenia’s Borut Fijavz teams up with Bulgaria’s Ludmil Hadjisotoriv to coach the White team.

Blue team roster: Andrej Magdevski, Kenan Sipahi, Ricardas Verbickas, Dogukan Sanli, Ivars Zvigurs, Domagoj Bosnjak, Yevgen Sakhniuk, Damian Jeszke, Nikola Jokic, Anzejs Pasecniks, and Milovan Draskovic.

White team roster: Rebec Matic, Julian Andrea Gualtieri, Agusti Sans, Alexander Martynov, Alberto Abalde, Axel Bouteille, Rade Zagorac, Vincent Kesteloot, Metecan Birsen, Kerem Kanter, Prokop Slanina, and Georgios Diamantakos


EuroBasket: Croatia beats Ukraine 84-72 to reach semi finals

Croatia progressed to the semi finals of EuroBasket for the first time since 1995 and secured their spot in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in the process with victory over Ukraine on Thursday.

The game started off with plenty of scoring but with neither side able to open a gap. The first quarter finished 22-22 and it was still tit for tat in the early going of the second before Croatia brought the pain. In the clash of import guards it was Dontaye Draper who proved his worth in the first half as the Real Madrid man spurred a push for the front. It led to some big offence for Croatia and they stuffed Ukraine repeatedly at the other end with their zone press. Pooh Jeter, who has put in some memorable performances in Slovenia, couldn’t get anything going. Croatia stretched it out and pushed into a 51-35 lead at the break.

It simply wouldn’t be a Croatia game at this tournament without a little cause for concern. Sure enough Ukraine came back in the third quarter and cut the deficit slowly. Drawing it down to single digits briefly, Mike Fratello’s charges gave Croatia pause for thought. Ukraine however couldn’t get closer than 9 points. Jeter to his credit fought hard on offence, while Draper had his measure early it was Ukraine’s talisman who came to the fore as the game wore on. He was but one man.

Croatia had options and they used all of them. Krunoslav Simon led all scorers with 23, Bojan Bogdanovic and Damir Markota supported him well. Roko Ukic created, scored, and led his team in rebounds. Draper had 6 assists and 4 steals. Viacheslav Kravtsov was the only man who could support Jeter’s offensive effort but his team’s 17 turnovers and horrible shooting from outside left them out of the race. All of this in spite of a valiant effort on the boards. Croatia were smarter, more accurate, and knew when to hurt Ukraine. This was business like.

Croatia can now look forward to the medal round, with the business of qualifying for Spain next year taken care of. They face the winner of Lithuania and Italy who play later on Thursday. For Ukraine it’s a case of win one and you’re in. They already have their best ever finish at EuroBasket guaranteed but if they can win one more game they will qualify for the World Cup. First up they face the loser of Lithuania and Italy. If they win, they are in. If not, they will have one more shot against a reeling Serbia.


Preview: EuroBasket Quarter Finals – Croatia vs Ukraine and Lithuania vs Italy

Three more teams will book their place in the 2014 FIBA World Cup on Thursday as the quarter finals of EuroBasket 2013 conclude. Here’s are take and picks on both games as well as the classification game between Slovenia and Serbia where the winner books a ticket to Spain. 

Croatia lost their first game in Slovenia and then rattled off seven straight wins to secure a favourable draw in the last eight. The Croats have power inside and will look to dominate on the glass, where they have averaged 43.1 rebounds per game. After beating Ukraine home and away in the qualification round last year, it’s hardly a surprise to see Croatia as favourites for this game. This is a team however which is almost addicted to making life difficult irrespective of the opponent. Only one of Croatia’s run of victories came in a manner that could remotely be described as comfortable. Every other game was a battle often of the Croats own doing. This will give hope to Ukraine which will rely heavily on three-point shooting to keep the game competitive and make the favourites nervous. Mike Fratello’s team lives and dies by how Pooh Jeter plays. What Croatia do to shut down the world’s biggest fan of borscht could prove decisive. The bookies have Croatia down as -8 favourites. That looks about right to me. Croatia to advance.

The second quarter final today sees Italy take on Lithuania. Raptors Republic is calling this tournament JonasBasket and while there’s an element of insular thinking there, for one evening they may have a point. Lithuania can bang hard with anybody and Jonas Valanciunas will have an important role to play in this game. Italy’s struggles inside hurt them in the second stage and they will need Alessandro Gentile to match his big display against Spain for this game to be competitive. There’s certainly talent on the Italian roster, with Marco Belinelli and Gigi Datome both impressing at this tournament. What the duo needs most is help. I expect a heavy emphasis on defence from Lithuania early to try and frustrate Italy before the favourites look to punch a big hole on the scoreboard in the second quarter. Lithuania are favoured by 5.5 points and again this looks about right. Power inside will make the difference. Lithuania to win.

Before today’s quarter finals take place, the first of the classification games will see Slovenia take on Serbia. The home side lost to France in a contest that took a while to get going last night while the Serbs were swept aside by Spain. The emotional energy spent by Slovenia is a big concern going into this game. While Serbia will have been shocked by the way they were manhandled by Spain, it’s easier to get back mentally after a laugher than the type of draining game Slovenia played. I’m going for the slight upset here and picking Serbia.


EuroBasket Power Rankings: And then there were eight

Where once there was 12 now stand 8. The quarter finals are set so it’s time to update our Power Rankings.

There are some radical changes but I still expect plenty of you will be upset. Take aim in the comments.

1. Croatia (4-1). It was really tough to decide between first and second here. Three straight wins in the second round, including that unreal 2OT win over Greece on Monday, were just enough for them to get top slot. 

2. Serbia (4-1). So that ranking of 9 was harsh. Serbia still clearly have a lot of work to do but their win over France was particularly impressive.

3. Slovenia (3-2). The home team is really getting the crowd involved in their games. Their win over Italy exposed some of the latter’s failings. Following that up with a heart-stopper over Greece was enough to take third here. We’re not counting what was clearly a nothing game against Finland against them.
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EuroBasket 2013 Quarter Final pairings set

The last game in stage two has yet to start but the four quarter final pairings for EuroBasket 2013 are set. Here’ are the pairings.

Serbia vs Spain

Lithuania vs Italy

Croatia vs Ukraine

Slovenia vs France

The first two games on Monday set the slate in stone. Greece lost any hope at making the quarter finals with their double overtime 92-88 loss to Croatia. Italy and Spain were left to decide the order of the top two quarter finals, with the loser getting Group E winner Serbia. Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies led the game in stats with 32 points and 10 rebounds but Alessandro Gentile made up for his lacklustre display against Croatia with 25 points and 7 boards. New San Antonio Spur Marco Belinelli had another good outing for Italy, with 16 points and 8 rebounds before fouling out while Marco Cusin, who also fouled out, put up 4 points and 11 boards. It took overtime to decide it but Italy took the win 86-81. Now all they have to do is repeat that success on the inside to lock up a place in the FIBA World Cup next year. Against a Lithuanian team that can bang hard, that’s no easy ask.

We’ll have previews up for the quarter finals later this week but bear in mind that the placement games in this tournament also matter. With Spain already having their place in the World Cup secure, all but one of the other quarter finalists will be making the trip next year. Tell us who you think misses out in the comments.


Eurobasket: Slovenia and Croatia progress, Spain win

We know half of the teams through from Group F after a wild Saturday. Two Balkan teams locked up their places in the quarter-finals with wins today while Spain cruised to their first win in the second phase.

Damn that crowd makes a difference. Slovenia and Greece delivered one of the ugliest first quarters of offence we’ve seen all tournament but the home team was perfect from the line to move into a 13 point lead after the first frame. That lead grew to 26 points before the inevitable Greek fight-back. Greece knocked 20 off the lead to make it a two possession game inside the final two minutes. Slovenia dug deep yet again, with the Dragic brothers combining for 39 points, 10 boards, and 6 rebounds en route to a 73-65 victory. It was a nervous finish but the win puts the home team top of the group and safely through to the last eight.
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